Well built, good sounding, very practical and versatile, and with an good remote control, the Cerwin Vega! XD4 and XD8s powered speakers and subwoofer are an fair desktop audio solution for DJs and music lovers alike.
First Impressions / Setting up
The two products on review here are being sold separately. So you can buy a pair of XD4 speakers as your desktop speaker solution, and add an XD8s subwoofer for extra bass, to give you a classic 2.1 speaker system.
XD4 desktop speakers
These are of the design where one speaker has a power socket and all the controls, and the other one is a “slave”, with a lead provided to link it to the “master”. The lead is good quality but rather short (4ft) – so these really are designed as a desktop solution, with the speakers sitting either side of your monitor/laptop. They are compact but still rather large for desktop speakers, which means better sound generally of course. The XD5 model is bigger, the XD3 smaller, to namecheck the others in the range.
The speakers are made of MDF and are quite deep, with rounded corners and a smart glossy finish at the front, and a bass port at the rear. The master speaker has a volume control plus headphones and aux in sockets at the front (there’s also a stereo 1/8″ jack lead provided for easy plugging in of your iPad, smartphone etc. to this socket), and unbalanced/RCA inputs plus balanced/TRS inputs at the back. There is a “Vega-bass” switch on the back, and a power off/on. The mains electricity lead is hardwired into the unit. They are a little like a less compact and lighter weight version of the popular M-Audio AV40 speakers.
This is a slim, long and reassuringly heavy box, in the same MDF and style as the desktop speakers, and appearing at first glance like an old-school PC case, save for the heavy duty protruding round speaker cover on the left-hand side and the big bass port on the front-top.
Round the back are stepped volume and crossover controls, a polarity reverse switch, both unbalanced/RCA and balanced/TRS ins & outs, and a socket for the remote control, as well as an on/off rocker switch and hardwired mains lead.
The remote control is at first glance quite pleasing, being made of metal with a rubberised base and a smooth large plastic volume knob, as well as a clever additional 1/8″ aux input and a bass on/off, but ours was let down by not sitting flat on the surface, meaning it rocked a little – a QC issue here I think and hopefully not one that will affect every unit. The remote control lead is actually appreciably longer than the lead that links the desktop speakers, and there’s also a high quality 6ft RCA lead to connect the subwoofer to the desktop speakers; this means the subwoofer can easily be tucked well away from the “action” (bass is pretty unidirectional so it doesn’t have to be right next to the desktop speakers if that isn’t convenient).
People often ask how you’re meant to plug your source (PC, DJ controller, iPhone etc.) into both a subwoofer and a pair of desktop speakers, when the audio source has only one stereo output. The answer is that you plug it into the subwoofer, and the subwoofer then feeds the signal onwards to the other speakers in the system.
So to set up, we position and plug in the desktop speakers, both to the main electricity and to each other, then we position and plug in the subwoofer, before finally linking the subwoofer’s RCA outs with the XD4 master’s RCA ins. Pop the remote control on your desk and plug it into the subwoofer, flick the two power switches and you’re ready to go. Audio sources always plug in via the subwoofer in this set-up, either at the back of the subwoofer, or into the aux-in on the remote control.
If you only wanted the desktop speakers and didn’t purchase a separate subwoofer, the only difference is that you plug your audio sources directly into the master speaker, including the aux in at the front of the speaker. so in either set-up you effectively have three separate audio ins: the 1/8″ jack on the front of the speakers/remote control; and the two inputs around the back.
In either situation, you’d typically attach the computer up to the system using the supplied RCA-to-jack lead, and a (not supplied) pair of balanced jacks to plug your DJ controller into the unit too, leaving you the 1/8″ extra aux input for quickly plugging in your phone or other audio source as needed, without having to fiddle around at the back of anything.
We have big, serious KRKs in the studio for testing gear and making our DJ training courses, but just recently on my personal desk at home (where I stil do a lot of my work), I’ve had nothing, and found it immensely unsatisfying listening to demos, music and so on from online sources (I adore Google Play Music All Access, Spotify and Hype Machine for background listening, for instance) through the built-in speakers in my iMac.
Furthermore, I’ve often found myself with a DJ controller plonked on the desk in front of me, and an hour to kill to test out some new feature or function to help with a “formal” review or filming session later on at the studio; in this instance, again clearly there’s a need for something more than system audio. Both of these use cases are fairly common to anyone who works and plays in the same small space, I’d guess.
Having set the speakers up, I tucked away the leads and firstly, cranked up a UK deep house playlist on Google Play Music All Access. It was immediately apparent that the subwoofer has enough power to destroy most domestic rooms. By that, I mean: rattle anything that’s not screwed down! This is good. There’s a polarity switch to ensure the subwoofer isn’t out of phase with the main speakers (you just try it in both settings to see which is “fuller”, and if you can’t tell, leave it unreversed), and a “crossover” (decides what frequencies are handled by the main speaker and which by the subwoofer; with small desktop speakers like the XD4s, you’d set it to 120Hz).
Once this stuff is done, you need to set the overall subwoofer volume for your room. I did this by playing a bass-heavy track and turning everything up full, then reducing the bass on the back of the sub until it was way higher than I’ll ever need but not as high as I’d started out. Next I turned up the XD4s until they again were way louder than I thought I’d need, and finally reduced the overall volume using the remote control. The remote control is neat in that once you’ve set a balance between the sub and the main speakers, you can control both using the remote.
In practice, what you end up doing is just what I just said, then “tweaking” the higher frequencies using the volume knob on the left-hand speaker. It’s pretty intuitive and gives you effectively a tone control even though there isn’t one on the system. You also end up switching the sub mute button on and off to compare the difference between the sound with and without the sub; I actually found the sub really pleasing, tight and controlled but definitely offering an extra “thump” that you can’t get from the (nonetheless pretty impressive) desktop pair of speakers.
Sound-wise, then, with streamed online music, these speakers sounded quite impressive. A little boxy at lower volumes, maybe, but as soon as you move the power into its sweet spot, they’re warm, engaging and clear, and worlds apart from (obviously) system audio, but also from cheap, plastic 2.1 speaker systems. The bass is tighter, the highs sweet and not in any way harsh (again, only in the narrow sweet spot; muted elsewhere). For me, with a close-field speaker system like this and the breadth of source material you’re likely to use it with, the key is control, and the aforementioned juggling of the remote control volume and the volume control on the left-hand desktop speaker gives you intuitive and satisfying management of audio whether you want to rock out or just put on some background music as you work.
Next thing I did was plug in a DJ controller, a Traktor Kontrol S2, actually opting for using an RCA-to-1/8″ jack lead via the remote control. The audio quality appeared to leap up a notch (probably due to the fun of having three-band EQ and filters to mess with, and the tendency to turn the volume up, over any audio source quality thing!) and I can happily report that this system is more than adequate for practising your DJing on at home. It’s going to fade into the background pretty quickly, never calling attention to itself, and instead letting you get on with DJing, which is what you want when practising. I always say a DJ system doesn’t need to be production-quality, just loud and engaging so you can “get in the zone” when mixing. The XD4 pair and and XD8s are perfectly capable of getting you there in any small to medium-sized room.
Before you start asking me for tech specs and wattages and frequency responses, there wasn’t stuff in the manual about that, and all I could glean is that the subwoofer has “80W of internal power”. Frankly at this level and for this money, they’re silly questions to be asking because the proof is in the performance, and as I say – for small to medium rooms and as desktop / computer / DJ controller speakers, these are more than adequate. They’re not going to be loud enough for parties (not that you should ever use consumer speakers at parties), but if you’re sat three feet in front of them, they’ll blow you away.
Two other things: The headphone socket is good, as it means you can listen privately without unwiring your computer, for instance; and crucially, they seem really well shielded, because with everything turned up to full, and no music on, there was nothing more than the tiniest electrical “buzz” audible, and you had to get right up to the speaker to get any hint of that. I’ve heard much worse at much higher prices.
I took to these little speakers. The subwoofer is practical and smart, being thin so it’ll tuck easily under a desk, and also well-made with its sturdy speaker grill and big, chunky feet. The MDF-constructed main speakers are step above typical computer speakers, and the wealth of input options plus the clever dual remote control mean the speakers are fun to use, whether that’s with a DJ controller (or mixer/decks, of course), computer audio, or your MP3 player easily wired into the front.
The “wobble” on the remote control was a bit of a shame but I guess that won’t affect all examples and it’s not a big thing anyway, and also the remote doesn’t totally kill the sound, but it gets 99.9% of the way there. Speaking of killing the sound, nitpicking to be fair, but I’d have liked a “mute” button. As any source that’s plugged in and playing will come through the speakers, there’s no need for a source switch as on other remote controls higher up the market, such as those by Pioneer and Reloop on their more serious, larger monitors. The short connector cable between the speakers could have done with being a couple of feet longer for those with very large desks, and the power buttons being on the back mean you’ll probably end up lazily relying on the 30-minute auto shutdown mode that’s built in – but that’s it for the niggles.
Overall, these are pretty good desktop speakers, and especially once paired with the subwoofer, they offer a great level of performance. They will transform your computer audio, are more than enough for DJ practice at home, the remote control making them really practical too. You get what you pay for, of course, and the whole set isn’t a throwaway purchase coming in at about $360, but if desktop is your choice, input flexibility is important, and you want decent sound quality for all activities including DJ practice, they’re a great choice.